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Throw away your plastic bags. They say it’s okay. There’s no need to choose which bin is the appropriate one for them. There’s no need to stockpile them for future use. They say this is now the “new normal.”

“They” is the County of Santa Barbara on California’s Central Coast. This is from an article I read online in the Santa Barbara Independent. A fellow editor had sent me the link.  After reading the first few lines I said, “Wait…what?”

The reasoning behind the change of heart comes from the China Waste Ban and the new contamination rates being enforced. It seems that plastic bags are getting in the way of attempts to meet those cleaner rates so Santa Barbara County is instituting new recycling rules.

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The article says, “The entrails from MarBorg and E.J. Harrison’s blue recycle bins go to Gold Coast Recycling in Ventura, where magnets and screens do initial sorting. The rest is done by hand. Workers pull off the line plastic bags and plastic wrap—because their recycle market has vanished and they must be thrown into the landfill—and the bags ‘snag and pull things off the line that should be recycled, like cans and cardboard. It takes time and energy to sort it out,’ explained Carlyle Johnston with county Public Works. That’s why Santa Barbarans are now being asked to put plastic wrap (like food coverings) and plastic bags into the brown trash bins.”

We dealt with a ban on plastic bags. Recently, Californians have been social media fodder for a ban on plastic straws. Now it feels like we’re going back to the days of the Wild West by simply throwing away our plastic bags, knowing they’ll end up in the landfill.

The Independent says, “‘There’s those who recycle,’ summarized Johnston, ‘those who hope that what they’ve put in the bin is recyclable, and those who just figure they now have two trash bins, one brown and one blue. For errant plastics, the problem by weight is not great,’ Johnston said. ‘But by volume, it’s significant. It’s what appears most in the contaminated bales.’ As much as 18.8 percent of Santa Barbara’s blue bin content is hauled back up to the landfill at Tajiguas as trash. Of the genuinely recyclable stuff, plastics #1 and #2 are melted at a facility in California and remade into items like plastic clam-shell berry boxes or playground equipment, respectively; glass of all colors is crushed in Los Angeles as road amendment; paper goes to Vietnam; and metals’ destination varies with supply and demand.”

The County seems to be making sense. It just doesn’t feel right. And if it doesn’t feel right to residents, will they be able to actually throw away their used plastic bags?

Full disclosure…the offices of MSW Management are located in Santa Barbara, CA.

What do you think about the Santa Barbara Public Works Department declaring that people should now throw away their plastic bags because there’s not a market for them in recycling and they get in the way of recycling material that does have market value? MSW_bug_web

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  1. Sad, but true. While co-mingled recycling has some obvious advantages, the downside is the contamination levels. Because every type of plastic has a different formulation, few if any processors can actually blend them together to make a value-added product. What we really need is good ol’ american ingenuity figuring out and investing in new processes to make new products out of the bags – locally. … and out of any other material that could be recycled. I wish I was that smart!

  2. If that particular plastic is not commercially viable for recycling right now, that’s fine but I think it is a mistake to dump it in the landfill in its current form. If it is in the recycle stream then why waste the opportunity to deal with it now. I think it can be heat-shrunk or melted with an oxidizer that would help break it down so that it is far less of a problem if it does have to be buried at the land fill. In that form I am certain that it would be more compact and therefore much cheaper, easier, and less messy to handle and haul.

  3. What did we use before plastic bags became the convenient norm? Baskets, bags, reusable containers. Single use plastics are the problem and that’s what we have to solve. Just don’t use them, accept them, start them and then there is no recycling problem at all!

  4. In my area, grocery stores offer both paper and plastic bags free to customers. I find it more convenient to use paper bags and the self-service check out line to organize my purchases for easier transfer to my vehicle and then into the house. However, I prefer plastic bags for fresh produce, meats and milk since these items sweat in our humid environment and also may leak into my vehicle during transport. At home, I repurpose the paper bags to recycle our daily newspapers, magazines and junk mail. Meanwhile, the plastic bags are reused for smaller trash can liners or are placed in a larger plastic bag for future return to the grocery store which has a plastic bag recycle barrel. The returned plastic bags are collected by a company that remanufactures them into wood-appearing planks for exterior decking, fencing and site furniture, which are resistant to insect damage. Contaminated plastic bags, pizza boxes, etc. go into the waste stream at home not into the recycle stream. All it takes is education and personal commitment by our citizens to keep our environment livable into the future.

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